Home / News / Smith And Wesson Suing Companies That Modify Their Guns (Or Are They?)

Smith And Wesson Suing Companies That Modify Their Guns (Or Are They?)

Note: this situation has been resolved the satisfaction of all parties. See updates below and throughout the post. Original post left mostly intact.

The gunternet is currently exploding after blowndeadline custom and SSVi LLC posted this image on their respective Instagram pages, a screenshot of the first page of what appears to be a cease and desist letter:

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.52.17 PM

SSVi, in their comments on the image (update: post deleted, screenshot here), attempts say this is Smith and Wesson trying to “decide what you, the end user, can and can’t do with their products to make them more ergonomic, fix their horrid trigger system or change any part of it to suit you and your shooting/carrying style.”

blowndeadline custom, taking a more professional stance (also deleted), says “Guess you know you’re successful when big corporations send you Xmas letters like this.” Followed by 8 crying emojis and 7 middle finger emojis.

Based on this single screenshot of the opening paragraphs of the letter, the floodgates have opened up against S&W with keyboard commandos immediately swearing that they’ll never buy another M&P and sell everything they have immediately.

However, it appears there is more to this story.

The letter, as posted by SSVi, indicates that it is addressed to Brownells, Apex Custom, DP Custom Works, Blowndeadline, and SSVi, a rogues gallery consisting of one huge general firearms accessories seller, one large aftermarket parts maker who makes most of their business off modifications to M&P guns, and three relatively tiny custom gun modifiers best known for stippling frames, cutting slides, and applying cosmetic coatings to make cool-looking guns. The fact that three relative nobodies would be named in this very official letter from Smith and Wesson makes very little sense until this screenshot emerged (it was originally linked from Facebook but I’m currently unable to find who posted) of the second page of the letter which sheds a little more light on the issue:


It would appear that these five parties were brought together over something called the “Dream Gun”, a project Brownells lead and tasked to Apex Tactical, who in turn subbed the job out to the three custom gun modifiers named in the letter:

Apex Tactical Specialties has teamed up with three of the most respected custom gun builders on a special Smith & Wesson M&P build for the Brownells Dream Guns® Project. The result of the collaboration, a one-of-a-kind M&P Pro 9mm, will be showcased in the Brownells booth (#13018) during the 2016 SHOT Show in Las Vegas.

The Brownells Dream Guns® Project was started in 2011 to help feature the wide range of parts and accessories available from Brownells that customers can use to upgrade and customize their own pistols, rifles and shotguns. To date over 100 Dream Guns® have been built and are available for review at Brownells.com.

“When Brownells asked us to participate in their Dream Guns Project by submitting a custom M&P fully equipped with Apex upgrades, we decided to take it a step further and turned to a trio of custom gun builders whose collaborations are some of the most recognized and coveted among custom firearms aficionados,” explained Scott Folk, vice president of Apex.

“To give our M&P Dream Gun its one-of-a-kind look we asked Doug Presson of DP Custom Works, Mike Sigouin of Blowndeadline Custom and Damon Young of SSVI to contribute their expertise. These three have worked together on so many guns, and their work so highly regarded, that we knew they’d be the ideal partners for our Brownells build.”

As alluded to in their letter, the reason for sending this letter three days before Christmas is to get the ball rolling and give adequate notice before Brownells exhibits this “Dream Gun”, which Smith and Wesson represents materially modifies the original firearm in such a way that it should not be represented under S&W trademarks, at the 2016 SHOT Show in three weeks.

Is Smith and Wesson trying to say you’re not allowed to modify your gun? No. They just don’t want guns that include modifications they don’t authorize being exhibited or sold bearing their trademarks.

Is Smith and Wesson trying to sue Apex or any of these smaller modifiers out of business? No.

I appreciate it takes a certain amount of moxie to strike out on your own and start a business, especially one that involves chopping and milling expensive firearms. But Smith and Wesson has a valid fiduciary duty to defend their trademarks and make it clear that this gun is in no way officially or unofficially endorsed or approved.

Misleadingly excerpting their letter and posting it on social media and casting it in a different light is dishonest.

Responding with middle finger emojis is just unprofessional.

Good luck, guys.

Update (2:30PM EST): John Johnston from Ballistic Radio is the source of the images of the full letter, reproduced here:

The full picture is both good and bad for S&W. They thoroughly explain their objection to the marketing of this gun based on trademark infringement and provide case law examples. The question is being asked why go after these guys now for doing what they’ve been doing for years, and the answer is obvious, as with all trademark or copyright infringement: the size of the damages are large enough. If someone makes, say, Star Wars morale patches that infringe on Disney’s copyrights but they’re too small to be worth suing, they can skate by. However, since this gun is going to be part of a SHOT show exhibit seen by thousands and marketed on the internet, the likelihood of confusion with S&W’s official work grows.

Unfortunately for Smith and Wesson, they are catching some well-earned heat for their demands. The first demand is that the gun not be displayed and a written promise of this fact be submitted. The second demand is to stop selling any modified S&W guns.

The third item, however, demands that they relinquish any modified S&W guns. I have no knowledge of trademark law jurisprudence, but it’s one thing to prohibit advertising or marketing something. It’s another to demand they return lawfully purchased merchandise.

Update the following day: Smith and Wesson has responded with a letter from the CEO stating that 1) they were only seeking to defend their trademarks, 2) they misunderstood the Dream Gun project, and 3) they look forward to seeing the gun at SHOT Show.

Blowndeadline, to their credit, has acted with humility and reasonableness in the wake of igniting an internet shitstorm, saying among other things, in response to a misinformed fanboy: “You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about either man. It’s been settled and all parties are satisfied. Stop beating a dead horse.”

tl;dr: Smith and Wesson sends an ill-advised Cease and Desist instead of picking up the phone and calling the companies in question. The companies receiving the C&D post part of it on Instagram instead of picking up the phone and calling the company in question, with a misleading caption. On a slow news day, haters and white knights seize upon a too-good-to-be-true (or too-bad-to-be-true, depending on point of view) story and it goes viral. The next day, the people in charge have a chat, and everything is resolved and everybody keeps doing exactly what they were going to do 48 hours earlier.

Lesson: only seeing half the story doesn’t mean there’s a story there. Sometimes getting the other half of the story means there’s nothing to see after all.

Comments on this post have been closed. If you have something further on this topic you’re dying to say, send us an email. I promise I’ll update the post here with anything useful or important. -Ben

About Ben

Blog contributor. Active in IDPA and USPSA, and he won't flinch if you call him a rules lawyer. Ben is a beard wearing, bacon eating, whiskey drinking, motorcycle riding, coder.


  1. Dear Triangle Tactical;

    Please cease and desist immediately and henceforth from the ongoing introduction of facts and fact-based opinions into the Intertubes and Interwebs and related media.

    Rationality is injurious to the Interweb’s generation and production of uninformed opinion, outrage, righteous indignation and other Interweb gasses, which are, after all and in perpetuity, its primary products.

  2. They can’t stop them from displaying it as a S&W M&P as long as the serial # leads the ATF to S&W and it comes up as an M&P.

    • Apparently you don’t understand laws governing the infringement of patents, copyrights and trademarks. These companies display the weapons after receiving this letter, S&W may well end up literally owning them.

      To make modifications to an existing product that is protected by patents, copyrights and trademarks as a private individual who owns said product is perfectly legal. There are also fair use laws that allow one to do certain things legally. But to go production and SELL a product that is a modified version of another company’s intellectual property and bears their name requires express permission.

      • You did read the president of S&W’s mea cupla this mornging did you not? This pistol was meant for display and never offered for sale. In matter of fact, they were even considering giving it to him at the Shot Show. This was a horrible mistake on the part of S&W and they said so.

  3. Relative nobodies… Hah, what dream world are you living in. Nobodies that get invited to shot show? What hack job “article”

    • Dude, damn near anybody can get invited to SHOT. But it’s Brownell’s who is displaying the M&P there. I’m sure DP Custom, BDL and SSVI will be there as well, but it’s really not that hard to secure an invitation to SHOT.

  4. as a patent holder, I understand what S&W is doing . The way it is being presented the nobodies are presenting it as a S&W Dream gun. This can be understood as a misrepresentation. What S&W is doing is making a distinction between the products. Had they just presented it s an upgrade of parts it would be a different case. It appears that they are marketing it as S&W affiliated project. ad they just advertised the parts as an upgrade there would not be a problem. This is a demand letter and it looks like it will be ignored til the patent holder enforces their patent. The other thing is the upgrades are mostly cosmetic rather than changing the function of the gun. Remember Glock tried to shutdown M&P when it started. How they prevailed was S&W had redesigned the internals from Glock and S&W prevailed. Since they are only doing cosmetics and not internals they can not present it as a S&W gun. also did they get design patents on their products which the little guys did not do. They can present their products individually but not as a finished gun without the permission of S&W. A similar thing is happening with Glock and the airsoft industry. They did not want any Glock licensed products. Since the operations of the internals are different al anyone had to do is leave off the Glock Trademark. All S&W is doing is asking them not to include the S&W trademark.

    • Which is absolutely moronic when every custom shop ever devised has used the name of the base gun to describe their creation. If anything they should be happy people are still willing to try and make such an awful handgun work.

    • Nonsense, that would like be Jeep sending out letters to anyone modifying a Jeep and taking photos of it to promote their aftermarket work.

  5. Bro they should embrace this instead of shunning it!! These builds are really the only thing going for the M&P …..safety concerns coming from a a pistol design that had how many recalls and redesigns! They should be hugging these guys! They remove logos off the build and off the marketing and what…. who looks at that handgun and doesn’t know its a M&P!! Stupid shit!

  6. S&W’s objections and demands strike me as absurd. As modified as it may be (really mostly cosmetic anyway), it’s still a S&W M&P. S&W could have just as readily decided to go after them for removing any manufacturer markings. (is that even legal?) It would be like Ford going after Saleen for making a custom Mustang, and still using the name. Sales of modified guns should actually be good for their bottom line – certainly customization of Glock brand Glocks has been good for Gaston and Co.

    The one real concern I could see would be warranty – the customizer has basically voided the warranty, and will need to cover repairs themselves.